My Life in Japan: The Awesome and The Meh

Japan is a crazy melange of contrasts in a homogenous population. I know that sounds contradictory, because it totally is. It’s conservative and hyper-weird, overly concerned with image and beauty, yet the architecture is beyond bland. Feature-packed, heated, musical toilets and a banking system from 1978. These are just a few observations, good and bad, since being here.

The aesthetic of everyday stuff. Packages are wrapped perfectly, food is presented beautifully. The little tray you put your money in when you buy something. This level of care and detail makes for an elegant culture.


Matcha Candy

The huge variety of tiny chocolates at the conbini, so you can eat sweets without feeling like you’ve destroyed your diet.

Sheet facial masks. Oh man… I’m so addicted.

Korean Sheet Masks

The access to high end, sometimes hard-to-find-without-going-to-a- dermo skincare products that are readily available at any drugstore. Obagi? HUGE selection here. At the drugstore!

The incredible customer service. Shop girls are genuinely helpful, salons give you massages, staff goes far out of its way for you—and all without expecting a tip because tipping isn’t customary. Good service is just the norm here.

The efficiency at ramen restaurants. You can order on demand or pre-pay through a machine. There’s always a huge thing water in front of you so you don’t have to flag someone down. They’re open at all hours, and at all hours, they’re always clean.

Japan Post and Amazon Japan. You can schedule package delivery for a certain window of time. For free. Your stuff comes fast, and it’s always perfect.

The money. It’s always crisp and clean and new out of the ATM. There must be someone who irons it daily.

The outdoor spaces. Little to no graffiti or garbage. Parks are manicured. Front yards are perfect. A neighborhood walk is so easy on the eyes.

The femininity. Sometimes, okay often, the preferred look is insufferably cute, and totally not my style (SO MANY BOWS). Sophisticated and understated is a hard look to find shopping, but I adore looking at it all. That said, the (few) brands who do design clothes for grown ups do a spot on job.

Now, for some of the less awesome things I’ve discovered…

Maybe I’m just lazy, but I hate bussing my own tables at cafes. And bagging my own groceries, but that’s mostly because I suck at it.

The pace. Aside from the major Tokyo train stations, people move slowly. I’m constantly trying to walk around people who are texting, or slowly weaving down the street for no apparent reason.

The waste. Japan is about ten years behind the States in tech, so there’s a huge amount of paper waste. Everything is printed out. Everything is put in plastic bags. The ubiquitous vending machines create tons of one-time use plastic bottle waste that seriously makes me cringe.

Convenient and wasteful

Convenient and wasteful

The lack of sophistication. This is the counter to my earlier statement about femininity. The desire to be perpetually adorable here is beyond strong. Some makeup packaging actually has pictures of babies on it, assuming all women want to look like an infant. Women in their late 30’s wear big bows in their hair. The plastic fake nails and thick fake lashes are garish, at least  by Western standards. The tiny, frilly, polyester skirts with six-inch clear plastic heels, then not being able to walk in said heels. Men with stuffed animals hanging from their man bags. From a California sensibility, it’s all pretty weird.

Because all babies use pore strips

Because all babies use pore strips

The indecision. In Japan, stating a firm opinion is considered rude. Debating an issue is considered rude. Hell, having an opinion on where to eat is considered rude. One of the reasons progress is so slow here is because no one wants to pull the trigger, even on the smallest decision.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love being here. The good far outweighs the bad (as far as I can tell!). The opportunities, the generosity of people, the urban powerhouse that is Tokyo… all fricking fantastic. But I’d be super rose-colored if I stopped thinking critically, and yes, there’s good and bad everywhere. I’m lucky enough to consider the bad and truly appreciate the good.


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